The global health crisis sent economies around the world into a tailspin. In the United States, Covid-19 caused record unemployment rates and furthered the exposure of already vulnerable populations. Though there are signs of recovery, for Black people the signs may not be enough to undo centuries of economic injustice that came to a head as the coronavirus swept the nation.
A report by the Center for Economic Policy and Research shows that Black people make up a disproportionate majority of the essential workers who continued to go to work even as states put shelter-in-place orders. With multiple studies showing Black people more likely to contract Covid-19, continuing to work quite literally puts their lives at risk in order to maintain a source of income.
Twelve percent of Black Americans are jobless right now, per a report from NBC News. That’s a five point decrease from 17% in May but nearly double from the pre-pandemic rate of 5.8% back in February, and the lowest rate of 5.5% in September 2019.
To rectify their current economic plight, experts and Black workers suggest a complete overhaul of labor laws, closing the wage gap along racial lines and inducing equity in the labor market. The goal of the federal government should not be looking to stabilize the Black unemployment rate to what it was before the pandemic hit.
Black people labored without monetary compensation for centuries in America during and after slavery. The aftermath of slavery and ongoing discrimination, from sharecropping to the 13th Amendment, Black people continue to be held back financially. It is systematic and methodical, despite the notion that working harder produces a better outcome, as Jared Kushner suggested in an interview.
Valerie Wilson, an economist for the Economic Policy Institute pointed out to NBC News that Black unemployment rates have typically been twice the rate of white unemployment since the Bureau of Labor started collecting data in 1971. The gap remains the same even when education and gender are controlled.
The group whose labor allowed the United States to establish itself as an economic powerhouse in the global economy is disproportionately negatively affected by the toll the pandemic took, both economically and in racial injustice.
Corporate pledges of solidarity in the Black Lives Matter movement are not enough according to Caroline Fredrickson, a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law told NBC News.
“They mouth all these wonderful statements about Black Lives Matter, but then, when it comes down to it, they take half their workforce and they designate them as contractors so they can shift the cost to the worker from the company for healthcare, for Social Security, for unemployment and all that.”
As the economy recovers, labor movement activists are continuing to push for change that extends beyond the pre-pandemic status quo. The push for labor equity seeks to establish footing for Black Americans to be compensated for their continued contributions to the United States economy.
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